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Find the Right Bit and Bridle for Your Western Horse

Updated on September 27, 2012

Fitting your horse with a bridle and bit that works for him as well as for you can mean the difference between a great ride and a trip to the hospital, for you and maybe your horse, too.

Try to think of a horses tack gear like the clothes you wear everyday. You know that pair of jeans in your wardrobe that squeeze you around the waist, and they aren't quite long enough or so long your heel keeps stepping on the hem. Or, better yet, that pair of jeans that rides up on you and you have to "adjust" your seat, as discretely as possible, all day! The same thing can be applied to your horse with his tack gear. The bridle clips not set right so the bit keeps falling out of his mouth or the straps are set too short and the bit is pulled up so tight he looks like he has a permanent grin. The brow band that slips down onto his eyelids, or is so tight it gives him a headache. Have you ever worn a baseball cap that was set too tight? What a headache it can produce. As a horse owner, you need to be aware of what fits well and how to make it fit right so your horse is comfortable in his gear as well as you are in your jeans.

There is a vast amount of accessories for a horse. It would be impossible to cover them all in one spot, so let's take it a few at a time. Let's take a look at some of the bits available out there in the western horse fashion world that's comfortable and how they work.

First let's go over some of the terms I will be using to describe the equipment.


Don't fool yourself into believing that some bits are severe compared to other bits. Some bits have more aids attached to them, but it is YOU the user that is severe, mild or moderate. A bit considered "mild" can become "severe" if put in the hands of a novice or someone that rides with a heavy hand.

I have witnessed the reins of a Bosal "jerked" so many times the horse finally had enough and threw the rider! I've also watched a horse with a high port curb bit with a four inch shank slide to a stop with out any draw on the reins.

Look at it like this: The belt you wear around your waist, to hold your jeans up or adorn a dress, is lovely and functional. Take that same belt and put it on the waist of a person that chooses to whip it off and spank someone, and that same lovely belt, just became a severe weapon!!

Are you going to stop wearing a belt because some people choose to pull theirs off and whip someone with it? No, of course not. You were taught what a belt is for and how to wear it.

Just as you were taught what a belt is for and how to wear it, you need to learn or teach yourself and others how to wear and use the various bits and bridles available for a horse. Every now and then your going to get that one person that doesn't know how to use the equipment they have on their horse. You can only try to gently educate them about how to use the item correctly or find someone that can. Educating yourself about your horses equipment will open a door of equine accessories that are beautiful, functional and safe. Like the belts you enjoy wearing, various bits and bridles can be a fun addition to your horses wardrobe (tack room), not a device for hurting.

Below you will find a table of some common bits and bit-less bridles available, their "severity" and how they work on the horse.

Common Bits

Severity When Used by a Well-Seasoned Rider
How it WorksUses
Snaffle Bit W/Rubber Bit
This is a good training bit for a foal. The rubber bit won't pinch like the metal ones that are like a nutcracker. Its flexible and gentle.
Snaffle Bit
Mild to moderate.
Applies pressure to the tongue, bars (act in a nutcracker fashion) and lips.
Tom Thumb
Moderate to Severe (leverage action increases severety)
The Tom Thumb is similar to a snaffle. While a snaffle has no leverage & direct action, a Tom Thumb has a shank creating leverage. (not for the novice)
Curb Bit
Mild to Severe depending on length of shank and height of port.
Applies pressure to the bars, tongue, roof of the mouth leveraging on the poll and the chin.
MicMar or Mickmar
Moderate to Severe
The wide bit, shank and direct nose rope can make this bit very severe. But when used with a light, knowledgedable hand it can produce flexion from nose to rear with a mere feather touch. Great for a well-seasoned rider with a light hand looking for show quality flexion.

Bit-less Bridles

How it Works
Mechanical Hackamore
Mild, Moderate, Severe
When reins are drawn it actives pressure on the nose immediatly followed by pressure on the chin and poll. Not recommended for a novice.
Mild, Moderate
The standard hackamore does not have the shanks as seen on the mech. hackamore. It works by "direct pull".
Applies pressure to nerve bundles in the nose and poll. Not recommended for a "high-strung" horse.


Before dropping that it into your horses mouth, check for a wolf tooth. If the tooth is present, don't put a bit in your horses mouth until it is removed. Imagine someone banging a screwdriver on one of your teeth, OUCH! Your going to resist and jump around in pain, don't do it to your horse. The Hackmore and Bosal are great alternatives!

The Mechanical Hackmore and the Micmar (Mickmar) are not for the beginner/novice. They both take a light, educated touch. When used by an educated rider you can bring out some show stopping performances from your horse with a gentle cue.

When your horse "boogers", "acts-up", "rears", etc., check your headstall and bit. Very often something is ill fitting and hurts.

Check back here often for more "Western Horse Equipment and How to Fit it Right"!

Be safe wear your helmet.


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